Hi Carly and Joe, please tell us about the creators behind Real Handful.
We’re a husband and wife team who met while we were at university and went on to build careers in the world of food and drink– we’re both passionate foodies and love the industry!
Joe’s background is primarily commercial, working in sales and category roles whereas Carly is a marketer so supports the business on the marketing side, so hopefully our skills complement one another when we’re working on Real Handful!!
You have created a brand parents like myself absolutely love, because of the no junk approach. What was the inspiration behind it?
Real Handful was inspired by Joe’s discovery of trail mix snack whilst he was hiking in the Grand Canyon. ‘Trail Mix’ is an American term that quite loosely describes snacks that are primarily made up of dried fruits, nuts, seeds, chocolate, granola…the list goes on. It’s a big category in America and when I (Joe) tried trail mix for the first time I loved the concept of blending natural and nutritious ingredients like dried fruit and nuts with a bit of chocolate to satisfy my sweet tooth!
Back in the UK, Carly and I started to experiment making our own trail mix blends in the kitchen because we found that the fruit and nut snacking category in the UK just wasn’t particularly inspiring and didn’t focus enough on flavour, texture and taste. The idea built from there and in 2013 we sat down and wrote a full business plan before registering the business.
Our focus has always been on making trail mix relevant to UK consumers by focusing on creating snack blends that really deliver on flavour and quality. So most of our blends use naturally flavour infused fruits or the odd sprinkle of Belgian chocolate (in moderation of course!) to really stand out from the crowd with flavours like ‘Mochaccino’, ‘Strawberries & Cream’ and ‘Blood Orange & Dark Choc’ in the range.
How did the business go from concept to launch?
Slowly! We have three young sons so with childcare fees and a mortgage to pay we had to stay in employment. That meant taking every opportunity available to us to progress the business working evenings and weekends till Joe left work in late 2014. In 2015 we were able to test two products in market before preparing the full range for launch in February 2016. That feels like a long time ago now!
What was the response like from your target audience and of course your sons?
The response has been brilliant. First and foremost customers like Sainsbury’s, Boots, Holland & Barrett and Ocado have been really supportive and excited about the opportunity to add value to the healthier snacking category.
And then we’ve done a lot of work directly with consumers to sample the range and explain the nutritional benefit of making the swap from crisps and chocolate bars into trail mix snacking. One thing is the same wherever we go, people are genuinely surprised and delighted at the way our snacks deliver on taste, which always feels like the litmus test for a food product!!
As for our boys they’re big fans and will ask for the ‘red one’ or the ‘blue one’ (our ‘Strawberries & Cream’ and ‘Blueberry Blitz’ recipes). They really enjoy the fruity flavours and the odd bit of chocolate. But at the moment they pick the nuts out a lot of the time and this is something we’ve been thinking about so we’re working on the development of a RealHandful range for kids.
What is your favourite thing to do when you’re not running Real Handful?
Well with three boys aged five and under (including a six month old) our favourite things are a bit irrelevant these days as the rest of the time tends to be spent entertaining them. Not that that’s a bad thing but we do often reminisce about our twenties when we had time to go out for nice meals, travel abroad or relax over a coffee. We’re both keen runners and used to run half marathons too so when we get the opportunity we love getting outdoors and trying to burn a few calories.
How did you fund it all in the beginning?
We did a small round of funding from friends and family to support product development and followed this up with a startup loan. We tried to bootstrap as much as possible but we’ve brought on a number of angel investors in the past 12 months to provide the funds to support the growth of the business.
What is it like running a business together and then juggling being parents at the same time?
It comes with its own set of challenges and benefits at the same time. Clearly life is pretty busy and Real Handful is quite all encompassing at the moment, it’s hard to switch off when you’re spinning so many different plates. However at the same time it’s our own business and we want to have a culture of flexibility – so if we need to do the school run and that means we’re going to arrive in the office after 9am we’ve got the freedom to make those calls ourselves.
Any exciting news for Real Handful this year?
Lots! April 2017 was a hugely exciting month as we launched into 460 Sainsbury’s store and over the next two months we’re rolling out into 280 McColls stores too as part of their healthier snacking range. At the moment we’re also recruiting new people into the team, which is brilliant news as it means we’re able to take on new projects – for example we’re looking at adding two new flavours to our range later on this year.
What has been the most exciting and the most challenging experience so far?
Every day in a startup brings a bit of excitement as well as the odd challenge to be honest! Certainly the trickiest part of running the business is managing the cashflow as we scale up the business, and it’s the area we’ve had to focus on our skills development the most to get on top of!
What are your top tips for marketing a food brand?
For us the focus is on making sure the product and packaging do as much of the marketing for you as possible whilst we are still working to tiny budgets! We try to run sampling activity as much as possible and then use promotional activity to drive trial of the range.
How would you define being an entrepreneur?
For us being entrepreneurs mainly means creating something that didn’t exist before. It’s about having an end vision and then joining the dots and creating the means to bring something into existence that wasn’t there before.
Our ultimate vision for Real Handful is huge and our challenge is to keep working towards that end goal whilst focusing on the day to day. The only problem is that each time we achieve something our vision gets a bit bigger. But if we dream big hopefully we’ve got a good shout of achieving something pretty exciting along the way.
What plans do you have for Real Handful over the next 12 months?
This is our second year of trading so it’s a huge 12 months for us. Ultimately our number one objective this year is to grow our sales and distribution to the point where we break even and have a sustainable business. If we can do that whilst still managing to spend a bit of quality time with the kids and each other that won’t be bad going at all!